Special Dispatch - Egypt/Reform in the Arab and Muslim World
September 25, 2002
Liberal Egyptian Intellectual on the Arab Regimes' Role in Missing the
Opportunity of Camp David 2000
In a recent article published in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat,
liberal Egyptian author Amin Al-Mahdi(1) criticized the Arab regimes for
their exploitation of the Palestinian issue and their role in the
Palestinian rejection of President Clinton's peace proposals of July 2000.
The following are excerpts from the article:
Arafat & Camp David 2000
"Historic moments usually force peoples and their leaders to make a fateful
choice between participating in the making of history, and falling beneath
its wheels. There is no doubt that the second half of 2000 was a fateful and
dangerous moment in the history of the Palestinian people, and its
ramifications have spread across the entire Arab world. The results show
that the Palestinian leadership, and behind it the Arab political and media
atmosphere, have not risen to the level required in order to make a [correct
"One of the consequences was that the Palestinian issue has reverted to a
point below zero. Not only did the Palestinians miss a genuine opportunity
for a reasonable settlement that would have enabled the Palestinians to
integrate into the modern age, taking the reins of change [into their
hands]; they lost its previous gains: the Camp David II negotiations."
"The Palestinian people had a state in the making that had clearly
progressed. [This state] included eight large cities and 400 villages, and
serious negotiations [were underway] regarding two villages inside
Jerusalem... [It had] a port, an airport, an airline, and headquarters in
Jerusalem... a parliamentary building under construction in Abu Dis; active
tourism; reasonable tax revenues; fledgling industry; considerable trade
with Jordan, Israel, and the European Union; agriculture that had
accumulated knowledge. It had... 127,000 workers in Israel with an average
income of $100 [a month]... esteemed educational institutions and an
identity; [It had] police and intelligence apparatuses and prisons (more
than necessary); media institutions; a government administration; and
international political and economic support."
"Most important, there was an entity and an urban elite capable of leading
the first Intifada with success rare in the Arab world. This elite was
capable of addressing the Israeli people and mobilizing broad sectors of it
to support the Palestinian cause. President Arafat held the record for
visits to the White House. The national Palestinian entity was visited by
many presidents, headed by Clinton and Chirac, and most of the world's prime
ministers and foreign ministers. The declaration of the state was within
arm's reach or closer. President Clinton's proposals... made an opening for
a chance for change and progress."
"Although President Arafat has admitted that he was mistaken in his
rejection of Clinton's proposals (Haaretz, June 21, 2002), his words are of
no avail. But he should have explained honestly why he rejected these
proposals, why it was a mistake, and why admitting the mistake had taken so
long. I think the situation deteriorated to a point that exceeds the mistake
of rejecting the Clinton peace proposal. That rejection was a link in the
tragic chain of errors that included turning to violence (as it is written
in the Mitchell Report which was accepted by all sides), forming a direct
and organic alliance with the factions of political Islam prior to the
negotiations, and transferring the leadership of the Palestinian street to
the 'punks of the Al-Fakahani republic.'(2) Thus, the principle of peace
negotiations was completely defeated. This significantly helped the fall of
the Israeli left the center of gravity [of Israeli support for] a peaceful
resolution and with it fell t!
he peace camp."
"In the clamor of the world battle against terrorism, the violence with a
religious nature particularly that fueled by young men and women who come
from poverty, oppression, and despair, who have been brainwashed to carry
out suicide attacks against civilians with criminal results has become a
remake of the September 11 events, and a permanent reminder to the world
that terror is Arab and Islamic. Thus, the moral weight of the Palestinian
issue began to erode; the difference between Sharon's violence and
Palestinian violence faded away; and the third Palestinian transfer that is,
the Jordanian solution became more imminent than ever, especially if we
consider the political vacuum that would be created were the Iraqi regime to
be forcibly replaced."
"... The external [Palestinian] damage is even worse. The new American
administration is made up of neo-conservatives... according to whose
mentality the Palestinian leadership is incapable of choosing the path of
peace. When [the administration] demanded that President Arafat fight
'terror,' it asked the impossible, because [Arafat] has already gone very
far down a path from which there is no return..."
The Arab Regimes and Camp David II
"When Arafat returned from Camp David, his masses carried him on their
shoulders as a symbol of respect for his achieving nothing. The Arab
propaganda apparatuses and the statements by top officials in some Arab
countries played a significant role in these strange festivities. It was the
right moment to add conditions making the problem irresolvable, such as
adherence to the refugees' right of return to Israel meaning, simply, the
establishment of two Palestinian states. Furthermore, a demagogic attack
lacking any objective basis [was launched] against Clinton and the U.S.
policy (there are many reasons to criticize American policy, but I do not
think that Clinton's peace plan was one of them)."
"All this was evidence of the retrograde direction in which the peace
process had gone... Along with this was the exaggerated aggrandizement of
the Hizbullah victory [in south Lebanon], which took on nearly mythological
proportions while it was a mere tactical victory that changed nothing in the
balance of power. This continued for six miserable months, until all hope of
preserving the principle of peaceful negotiations was lost when Sharon came
to power as Sharon is the best possible partner for this dance of death."
"...In my personal opinion, no matter what peace proposal Clinton presented
to the Arab side, it was sure to be rejected. This is because the
Palestinian issue was always the main source of legitimacy for the
revolutionary [Arab] regimes that established rural or tribal military
republics. The Palestinian issue was always the subject of 'Announcement
No. 1' of all these [Arab military coups]. More important, it was the prop
for the war declared on democracy and modernization [by the Arab regimes],
an eternal pretext for the bill of divorce from the free world and for
imposing various laws, from emergency laws through military laws."
"Since regional tensions, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, were one of
the fronts of the Cold War, when the reorganization of the world began...
the military (ex-revolutionary) Arab democracies suffered from pressure
caused by this reorganization for example, with the erosion of national
sovereignty, the free market, the globalization of human rights, the
[establishment of] international courts, and the rise of the era of the
peoples. The Arab regime tried to create a kind of new Cold War, by forming
an alliance with Islamic fundamentalism and establishing a new shadow empire
in Central Asia."
"The centers of tension, such as the Palestinian issue, [the war in]
southern Sudan, and the friction in the Gulf, took the place of the Iron
Curtain and the Berlin Wall, making it possible to man the barricades, to
close themselves off, and to create polarization with the entire world...
The situation became so extreme that these military republics allowed
themselves to become royal houses, where political cloning was allowed
"Clinton's proposal was no more than a peace offensive against this Arab
regime, and against its iron curtain in Palestine and southern Sudan. The
aim [of this offensive] was to open the region to the changes of the
post-Cold War era. It was a perfect American achievement and thus
encountered cruel resistance, with no examination of what was good for the
Palestinian people. When President Clinton left the White House, he took his
proposals with him, leaving it to new tenants that do not believe [in his
"Thus, Abu Ammar [Arafat] again turned the Palestinian people into a human
shield protecting the Arab regime from the aggression of modernism and
freedom. That is, he actually made the Palestinian issue revert to being an
Arab [issue]. If only he would have settled for this but he compensated
political Islam for its humiliating defeat in Afghanistan and southeast
Asia, for its bad reputation, and for its persecution throughout the entire
(1) To read other articles authored by Amin Al-Mahdi, see MEMRI Special
Dispatch No. 104: Once we started fighting Israel we lost Democracy; A
Cultural Profile of an Egyptian Peace Activist and Special Dispatch No. 169:
An Egyptian Intellectual in Support of Peace.
(2) A reference to the PLO's rule in West Beirut during the 1980s.
(3) Al-Hayat (London), September 9, 2002.
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent,
non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle
East. Copies of articles
and documents cited, as well as background information, are available on
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)
P.O. Box 27837, Washington, DC 20038-7837
Phone: (202) 955-9070
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